Category Archives: labor force

17/4/21: Collapsing Labor Force Participation: A Secular Trend

 

For those of you following this blog this would be a familiar sight: I have been worrying about the underlying structure of the U.S. labor markets for some time now. The ongoing recovery appears to be relatively robust in terms of headline figures, e.g. GDP growth rates and declining continued unemployment claims. But in reality, it has been nothing but the return to trends that persisted before the pandemic - trends that are extremely worrying.

I covered the fact that longer term unemployment has now gone through the roof: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2021/04/14421-share-of-those-in-unemployment-27.html. And beyond this, there is a bigger problem of historically low levels of labor force participation. We are witnessing a massive pull-away within the skills distribution in the U.S. economy: there are shortages of skilled labor, including in manufacturing, and there is massive outflow of people from the labor markets in lower skills groups.


Just look at the absolute disaster of the 'recovery' when it comes to people who have left the workforce alltogether:


And consider the gender mix in this: 

1. Women labor force participation is down:

2. Men participation has collapsed:

The above appears to show more benign trend in female labor force participation trend than in male, and... here comes the kicker: women labor force participation currently sits around the levels comparable to 1987; men - at around ... well... never.


The above table puts matters into perspective: the gap between the pandemic period and prior high participation period is almost 5 times larger for men than for women. But... the gap between women and men participation rates in the pandemic period and pre-pandemic period is much smaller: at roughly 48% higher for men than for women. For the latest data point (March 2021) the latter gap is roughly 80%. In other words, the dynamics in terms of labor force participation for women are becoming much less benign, relative to men. than they were during the pre-pandemic period.

To put this into a different perspective: secular pre-pandemic trend for men were woeful. They were less so for women. But pandemic is accelerating longer term pressures on both men and women in pushing them out of the labor force.

If you think this is a 'robust' recovery, you really need to think a bit harder: we are having a secular stagnation in the female labor force and we are having a long term depression in the male labor force. And these trends are not subject to demographics of aging. 

15/12/20: Impact of Covid19 on families & labor

 

Some interesting research on the less tangible differential impacts of Covid19 pandemic via McKinsey: families with children and families without children


In all categories, impact of the pandemic has been more severe on families with children. Predictably, as parents are facing increased demand on household work and higher pressure of increased density of living.

Closure of schools or flex-model (partial closure) are probably one of the key drivers:


Public safety during the pandemic might (rightly) be the overriding concern when it comes to designing strategic approach to managing the pandemic responses, but as the pandemic drags on, the above impacts are likely to cumulate. Something has to give. One example of appropriate response should be changing or suspending all traditional job performance assessment metrics, and doing so formally. Another point is that allowing increased mobility for smaller families, while keeping restrictions for larger families - an approach that is consistent with the argument that public health restrictions should be applied predominantly to families with greater vulnerabilities (e.g. families with children) is likely to widen the gap between the Covid19 impacts on families with kids and those without. A third point is that public supports should be extended and increased for families with children. 

These points might appear to be obvious in light of the above evidence, but they are by no means a norm in the public policies deployed in many places. 

In some areas, it is harder to design specific policy responses that can target the prevalence of the more severe impacts. For example, McKinsey reference a substantial gender gap in severity of the aforementioned effects: "Our survey data also show that more mothers struggle with household responsibilities and mental-health concerns compared with fathers (at 73 percent versus 65 percent, and 75 percent versus 69 percent, respectively, citing these challenges as either acute or moderate)." However, as McKinsey research shows, there are some responses that employers have been taking to try and mitigate overall negative impact of Covid19 pandemic on social and physical well-being:


The problem is that (1) the above measures are clearly not enough, and (2) the above measures are not targeted specifically to help families with children. Nor do all of these measures apply to all types of employees. In fact, the more vulnerable employees (termed contracts, contingent workforce, etc) are clearly put at a greater disadvantage by many of these measures. At least four of the ten measures listed in the chart above are clearly associated with increased risk of lower earnings and greater sense of precariousness in one's employment/career prospects. Something that is counter-productive in the pandemic over the long run, even if it appears to be accommodative in the short term. 

The implementation and effectiveness of the above measures are also wanting. Furthermore, the above responses tend to apply across the entire workforce, and do not reflect the fact that pressures of the pandemic are distributed disproportionately across different demographics (I mention families with children and women, but the same concern applies to POC households, LGBTQ+ households and so on):


Something has to give. And the public policy responses should lead, not lag, these developments.


Note: McKinsey's full research paper is available here: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diverse-employees-are-struggling-the-most-during-covid-19-heres-how-companies-can-respond

27/9/20: U.S. Labor Force Participation and Employment-Population Ratios

 Yesterday, I posted updates to the America's Scariest Charts series on the U.S. labor markets (see https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2020/09/26920-americas-scariest-charts-duration.html). Two commonly over-looked and under-reported labor markets statistics worth covering in any analysis of economic conditions in the country are:

  • The labor force participation rate, and
  • The employment to population ratio.
Both have been shockingly impacted by the COVID19 crisis, and both are experiencing only partial recovery to-date. 


As the chart above illustrates:

  • U.S. Labor Force Participation rate stood at 61.8 at the end of August 2020, a slight deterioration on July 2020 (62.0), but above the COVID19 trough of 60.0 in April 2020. Current level is below 2020 average of 61.9, which is itself the lowest decade average since the 1970s. Excluding CIOVID19 period, latest reading for the participation rate is the absolute lowest since May 1977.
  • U.S. Employment to Population ratio has fallen to its all-time lows in April 2020, and has recovered since. At the end of August is stood at 56.5 percent, up on 51.3 percent pandemic period low, and in-line with the 2020 average to-date. Before the start of the pandemic, the ratio stood at 60.9 and the previous decade average was 59.3. In historical comparatives terms, the latest reading for this indicator is the lowest (excluding the pandemic period lows) since early 1983.
In terms of both indicators, current conditions in the U.S. labor markets are worse than those encountered at the worst points of any recession since 1983, including the depths of the Global Financial Crisis. And this assessment comes after 3 months of the ongoing 'recovery'. 

29/4/20: Surprising Effects of COVID19 on U.S. Labor Force


Mid-run COVID pandemic effects on U.S. employment, unemployment and labour force participation rates via: https://voxeu.org/article/labour-markets-during-covid-19-crisis-preliminary-view



The striking collapse in estimated participation rate is down to several factors, some expected, some less so. Per authors:

"Why do so many unemployed choose not to look for work? ... Prior to the crisis, most respondents out of the labour force claimed that it was because they were retired, disabled, homemakers, raising children, students, or did not need to work. Only 1.6% of those out of the labour force were claiming that they could not find a job as one of their reasons for not searching. At the height of the Covid-19 crisis with a much larger number of people now out of the labour force, we see corresponding declines in the share of homemakers, those raising children and the disabled. However, we see a large increase in those who claim to be retired, going from 53% to 60%. This makes early retirement a major force in accounting for the decline in the labour-force participation. Given that the age distribution of the two surveys is comparable, this suggests that the onset of the Covid-19 crisis led to a wave of earlier-than-planned retirements. With the high sensitivity of seniors to the Covid-19 virus, this may reflect in part a decision to either leave employment earlier than planned due to higher risks of working or a choice to not look for new employment and retire after losing their work in the crisis."

This is interesting and far-reaching. If true, such changes provide some - rather substantial - clearing of the path to promotion and career advancement by the older generation of GenX-ers. But it also might be a feature of the COVID-relted layoffs that could have been accompanied by the longer-term jobs destruction in sub-occupations and sub-sectors that tend to simultaneously attract senior or in-retirement workers and be associated with higher degree of person-to-person contacts, e.g. in basic services.

Either way, the implications for the younger generations of the COVID19 crisis remain highly uncertain, but for older generations, earlier retirement and forced retirement is usually associated with lower income in retirement. After all, people in retirement age were not working for purely social reasons before COVID19 pandemic hit.


8/8/19: Upbeat Jobs Reports Miss Some Real Points


Unemployment claims down, the weekly jobs report seemed to have triggered the usual litany of positive commentary in the business media


But all is not cheerful in the U.S. labor markets, once you start scratching below the surface. Here are two broader metrics of labor markets health: the civilian employment to population ratio and the labor force participation rate, based on monthly data through July:


The above shows that

  1. Civilian labor force participation rate is running still below the levels last seen in the late 1970s, and the current recovery period average (close to the latests monthly running rate) is below any recovery period average since the second half 1970s recession end.
  2. You have to go back to the mid-1980s to find comparable 'expansion period'-consistent levels of labor force participation rate as we have today. This is dire. Current recovery-period and President Trump's tenure period averages for labor force participation rate sit below all recovery periods' averages from 1984 through 2006. 
So much for upbeat jobs reports.